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Mental health and addiction issues affect us all, either directly or through those we know and love. In any given year, one in five Canadians will experience a mental health issue; by the time Canadians reach the age of 40, half of them will have experienced a mental health problem. These numbers are staggering, and it is creating a health crisis across the country.

With the proper care and supports, recovery is possible for most people who are experiencing mental health and addiction challenges. However, we also know that nearly two-thirds of Canadians experiencing mental health challenges don’t seek treatment due to any number of factors, including:

  • Stigma because of the fear of prejudice
  • Financial and economic barriers
  • Limited availability of supports

YWCA Edmonton provides programs and services that help break down some of these barriers to support, offering a sliding scale pay-what-you-can-afford counselling option not available anywhere else in Edmonton. Our unique model benefits marginalized and vulnerable populations tremendously — over 99% of our counselling sessions are fully or partially subsidized. While most of our clients are women who are suffering from domestic abuse or other complex trauma, our services are available to all. Our commitment to providing accessible care for anyone who needs it means that all of our clients are able to get the crucial mental health supports they need, regardless of any socio-economic obstacles they may be facing.

Trauma is the leading cause of mental health problems for the clients we serve, and we excel at providing trauma-informed care. This allows our clients to address the immediate symptoms of their mental health issues, and then begin the careful and measured work of processing their trauma as they move towards healing. YWCA Edmonton is widely regarded as a centre of best practice on trauma-informed counselling.

Trauma stemming from negative childhood experiences is a root cause of mental and addiction issues, poverty, criminality and homelessness. At least 20% of people with mental illness have a co-occurring substance use issue. These problems can look similar, and it is one more piece of the complex puzzle that needs to be managed when considering proper care and treatment. More often than not, our clients are dealing with complex trauma issues and that makes it even more urgent and necessary to break existing cycles and patterns of behaviours.

Research shows that there is great economic strain that comes with mental health problems. The majority of people suffering through complex mental health issues never receive the care they need – because it takes too long, costs too much or is too difficult to navigate. It’s estimated that mental health problems place a financial load of over $50 billion on Canadians, factoring in declining productivity and health care costs. It is clear that there is still work to be done on creating an integrated continuum of care that is efficient, and effective at responding to Albertans.

We recommend the following steps to create a more culturally competent and responsive mental health and addiction system:

  • Complete a systems map of all pre-existing prevention, and intervention supports for mental health and addiction to ensure strategic alignment of services with the Ministry’s vision;
  • Create a system of mental health and addictions supports that are low-barrier and integrated into housing, and shelter supports. For example, focus on reducing re-admission rates by ensuring that clients are discharged to appropriate housing and supports at the right time; and
  • Design culturally relevant and sensitive addictions and mental health supports that meet the needs of Albertans who are women, Indigenous, newcomers, youth, LGBTQ2S+ and adults.

YWCA Edmonton continued our legacy of exceptional quality mental health care in 2019, offering a record number of counselling sessions — effectively treating 420 individuals through over 3,350 hours of individual therapy. These services are a catalyst for positive change in the lives of our clients, as they move from crisis to resilience.

This is not work we can accomplish alone, though. That is why YWCA Edmonton is working alongside our sister YWCAs in Alberta to offer provincial scale solutions to the mental health and addictions issues facing Albertans. To learn more about the work of YWCAs throughout the province and the systemic recommendations we have designed together, please visit their blogs: